April 22, 2006

INTERVIEW : Brigadier General John F. Mulholland Jr. Commander U.S. Army Special Forces Command

Interview with Brigadier General John F. Mulholland Jr.
Commander U.S. Army Special Forces Command

Brigadier General John F. Mulholland Jr., assumed command of the U.S. Army Special Forces Command on September 30, 2005. Prior to commanding USASFC, Mulholland was chief of the Office of Military Cooperation in Kuwait.

Born in Clovis, N.M., Mulholland graduated from Furman University in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in history and was commissioned there as a second lieutenant in the infantry. His first assignment was in Fort Clayton, Panama, from 1979 to 1980, where he served as a rifle platoon leader in Company C, 4th Battalion (Mechanized), 20th Infantry, 193rd Infantry Brigade. From 1980 to 1982, Mulholland was rifle platoon leader, weapons platoon leader and company executive officer in Company A (Airborne), 3rd Battalion, 5th Infantry in Fort Kobbe, Panama. He then graduated from the Special Forces Qualification Course in 1983 and was assigned to the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg, N.C. He served with the 5th SFG (A) as an Operational Detachment-A commander and a company commander from 1983 to 1986. Mulholland returned to Panama from 1987 to 1989, where he was appointed current operations officer and later exercises and ground operations officer in J-3 (operations), U.S. Southern Command.

He attended the Defense Language Institute in 1990 and the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College from August 1990 to 1991.

From June 1991 to 1993, he served with 1st Battalion, 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Fort Bragg as operations officer and later as an executive officer.

Following his tour with the 7th SFG (A), he was transferred to the headquarters company U.S. Army Special Operations Command at Fort Bragg as an assistant operations officer, deputy operations officer, and operations officer until 1996.

Mulholland commanded 1st Battalion, 1st Special Forces Group (Airborne), U.S. Army Pacific Command in Tori Station, Japan until 1998; he then assumed command of the U.S. Army Office of Military Support in Washington, D.C., until 2000. He attended the National War College in Washington, D.C., in mid-2001. He assumed command of 5th SFG (A) at Fort Campbell, Ky., in September 2001. In August 2003, he was assigned to the position of chief of the Office of Military Cooperation in Kuwait.

Mulholland’s military awards and decorations include the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the Meritorious Service Medal, the Army Commendation Medal, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Army Achievement Medal, the Joint Meritorious Unit Award, the Valorous Unit Award, the Special Forces and Ranger tabs, the Pathfinder Badge, the Master Parachutist Badge, the Military Freefall Badge and the Expert Infantryman Badge.

Interviewed by SOTECH Editor Jeff McKaughan

Q: Is the USASFC warrior of today different from his counterpart from five years ago? 15 years ago?

A: Certainly today’s Special Forces soldier has an operational appreciation and consciousness of his profession that one would have to reach back to the height of the Vietnam War, or the WWII-Korea continuum to compare with. Nonetheless, I see an incredible thread of continuity between today’s Special Forces warrior and his forefathers reaching back formally to the operators of the Office of Strategic Services and the First Special Service Force of WWII. Informally, that thread connects today’s unconventional warriors directly back to the Minutemen of our own fight for independence, and men such as Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, who forged paths and relationships with indigenous peoples across unknown and dangerous terrain, both human and geographic. That continuity is found in such enduring characteristics as courage, bold and creative imagination, initiative, selfless service and absolute commitment to mission success.

What is specifically different today results from the convergence of several powerful vectors that demonstrably influence today’s Special Forces soldier and our collective capabilities. Those melded vectors include the uniformly exceptional quality of men that continue to enter and serve in Special Forces combined with the incredible training that our training base in the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School delivers to produce the world’s premier unconventional warrior. Additionally, we are experiencing a level of resourcing that Special Forces had not previously enjoyed. Finally, the force possesses an immense amount of combat and operational experience today. In combination, today’s Special Forces soldier, either alone or in conjunction with his teammates, brings unparalleled capabilities to the battlefield.

Q: Are there mission elements that you would like to see SF improve in? Are there any core skills or missions sets that would be better to migrate to another SOF command, or the big Army? Will the standup of MARSOC have any impact on you and your people?

A: Of course, we always strive to improve and increase our capabilities based upon emerging tactics, techniques and procedures, technological advances and evolving mission requirements. Special Forces detachments and individuals are executing all of our core missions in combat daily, as well as many of our associated collateral missions and tasks. If anything, our operational experience over the last several years has validated the Special Forces mission sets, repeatedly demonstrating their specific relevancy and application to the GWOT. We see no need and have no desire to migrate any of our core competencies.

It is vitally important to keep in mind that the context for understanding Special Forces operations is unconventional warfare. Special Forces is DoD’s only force and capability that is specifically trained, equipped and oriented to conduct unconventional warfare. By design, Special Forces groups and their subordinate detachments are prepared to execute the range of special operations in a manner that maximizes our enhanced understanding of the indigenous environment and access to indigenous capabilities to satisfy stated objectives. Special Forces men spend their careers developing not only their superb tactical and technical skills, but a comprehensive appreciation of how to apply those talents appropriately within the indigenous context.

As to the Marine Special Operations Command, we welcome them into the special operations family. There is no doubt that the capabilities that are now developing within the MARSOC will complement the family of capabilities already resident within USSOCOM. For example, we look forward to working closely with our Marine brothers-in-arms, particularly in the foreign internal defense arena, where I fully expect SF and Marine capabilities to both be applied.

Q: Are there any organizational or structural changes that you see impacting the command in the coming year?

A: We are looking forward to the expansion of our Special Forces groups over the next few years and continue to work very hard to transform the future force to meet the needs of our nation. Key approved force design update initiatives include the introduction of the enhanced special forces group—Band I, II and III, redesign of our chemical reconnaissance detachments, and transformation of our combat support and combat service support assets.

The current SF battalions have about 400 personnel. There are plans approved for a phased increase to the overall size of the groups. The transformation initiative for the command is called the enhanced special forces group, otherwise known as ESFG.

Band I and II are currently approved. Band I adds almost 100 spaces per group and focuses on combat support and combat service support specialties. Band II adds over 250 personnel spaces per group; of those, almost 100 are Special Forces qualified positions. Band III is currently in competition in the fiscal years 2008-2013 POM [program objective memorandum]. We expect a resourcing decision to be made later this year. It adds over 500 spaces per group, the most significant element being the addition of an SF battalion per group.

Additional growth, occurring this fiscal year, comes from separate initiatives to expand the group support company to a battalion size and to expand the chemical reconnaissance detachment in each group.

Q: Although the QDR has only been out a short while, any thoughts on what it means for USASFC?

A: We are excited by it. When you read the QDR and associated documents, you cannot help but be impressed with the heightened appreciation for unconventional and irregular warfare operations. This is our bread and butter, and the language alludes to approaches and applications that are second nature to Special Forces. Even though Special Forces has been at the forefront of this war from the very beginning and remains heavily engaged in current operations, we strongly feel there is a great deal of unrealized potential within Special Forces that can and ought to be brought to bear against our adversaries. We are eager for the opportunity.

Q: How important is SOF-specific research and development to creating the tools that your teams need in the field? How is R&D structured and funded within USASFC?

A: Equipment obtained from SOF-specific research and development programs helps enable our ODAs more effectively accomplish the difficult missions we ask them to complete. Although we do not have research, development, testing and evaluation authority, we are leveraging other SOCOM assets and other DoD organizations to accelerate our material development and acquisition timeline. My G7 works with the groups to determine requirements and then coordinates with USASOC and SOCOM to validate, resource, procure and field those systems and capabilities.

Q: Language skills are important to just about every aspect of Special Forces. What has been done recently to meet the need to train and maintain those capabilities? What technologies are best suited for training your people, and do you outsource this skill or do you handle it internally?

A: The most important change to how we are approaching language training has occurred within the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, particularly in the way SF candidates are assessed for language aptitude and subsequently trained while in the qualification course. The language-training program at the special warfare school has really undergone important transformation under the leadership of Major General James Parker. It is now designed to introduce languages into the training program early on and weave them throughout the course of the training rather than teaching them at the end of the program. Soldiers will also be involved in immersion programs to improve their fluency. The ultimate intent is to make sure that SF soldiers are able to communicate in their assigned foreign language within the context of the customs, tradition and mores of a specific culture or mix of cultures indigenous to their areas of responsibility.

Once soldiers finish the Q-course and join their groups, it is unquestionably a challenge to maintain language proficiency. Teams routinely conduct language training at the language-training facilities located at the group level. These facilities attempt to maximize both native speaker cadres and state-of-the-art language software to provide high-quality language training. Additionally, the groups coordinate for selected participation in a variety of language-immersion programs, both within the U.S. and abroad. Finally, our soldiers are routinely using their language skills as a practical matter on their operational deployments around the world. We continue to work to find the best possible mix of technology and training time to improve our collective language capabilities.

Q: Body armor has been in the news lately. SOF necessarily are light and mobile. How do you navigate the thin line between protection warrior and preserving the mobility which is key to the mission? Vehicle protection could be a similar issue.

A: Our task at Special Forces Command is to provide each and every one of our soldiers with the most capable body armor or vehicle protection possible. “Capable” implies the need to both protect the soldier while allowing him the mobility and flexibility to fully execute his combat mission without being meaningfully impeded by that same armor. This is largely a technology challenge, and we do our very best to monitor and acquire new systems as they become available for our Special Forces soldiers.

Currently our soldiers wear either the Army Common Interceptor Body Armor [IBA] or SOF unique Body Armor Load Carriage System [BALCS]. SOCOM is moving to where all soldiers in a group wear BALCS, and the SOCOM program manager is programming money for us to do that. Both IBA and BALCS provide the same level of protection [7.62 mm AP]. We are aggressively pursuing an initiative with the program manager to develop lighter, more comfortable systems that provide our soldiers [with] greater protection. We are actively armoring our GMV-S fleet as well, seeking a similar balance between protection capabilities while preserving the required performance capabilities of the vehicle.

Q: Do you think that special operations missions with coalition partners will become more routine in the near future? What are some of the obstacles to these types of missions and are there easy fixes for them?

A: Absolutely, and this is an area that Special Forces soldiers have long been particularly comfortable working in, as we discussed earlier. We habitually work with coalition partners and foreign personnel, conducting complex combat operations with coalition partners and allies daily in Afghanistan and Iraq. Ultimate success of the GWOT will be largely dependent on our ability to successfully work with our friends and allies collectively to defeat the threat of terrorism facing us all. In some cases, it will undoubtedly mean helping them to develop relevant capabilities so that they, in their homelands, can better protect themselves from the threat. In other cases, it may mean conducting combined operations with U.S. and coalition forces to achieve specific effects on the battlefield.

There are certainly challenges that affect meaningful coalition operations. These challenges run the spectrum from interoperability issues that may manifest themselves in differences in technology and/or training, to differences in national perspectives regarding the specific mission and subsequent authorities relevant to that mission. Not surprisingly, the challenge of tactical interoperability and technology are minimal when operating alongside our SOF comrades-in-arms from long-standing traditional allies. The level of coalition interoperability that is taking place today with our comrades is truly remarkable and, in my opinion, an exemplary model for coalition operations.

Where technological or tactical capability gaps are apparent, we all simply work together to overcome them. As more and more countries come to understand what is truly at stake in this global war, and they commit their forces to the coalition, different challenges emerge that must be overcome to attain the highest degree of integrated capability and competency possible. The more we do it, the better at it we all get.

Fundamentally, I believe success in coalition operations comes down to two essential behaviors: respect and sustained professionalism. Regardless of whether a coalition partner brings the same level of technological or tactical capabilities as we possess to the fight or not, they all bring a commitment to share hardship and danger while working together towards a common objective. Within a positive environment of respect and professionalism, working through even difficult challenges is eminently possible and often surprisingly productive.

Q: What is your take on the transformation of the recruitment and training processes? Have you had much feedback from the more experienced operators and how they view what the new system is sending them?

A: Commanders at all levels have identified for years that while creation of competent, fully mission-capable units takes time, we require more Special Forces soldiers and support personnel in today’s and tomorrow’s complex battlefield environments. To address this need, in 2002 the Special Warfare Center and School began a phased increase in the number of Special Forces graduates to build the operational force. They increased the number of active-duty enlisted graduates from a historical ten-year average of 350 per year to over 750 graduates now. This transformation has proven critical to the needs of the force.

We are experiencing the success of both this phased increase as well as the effects of the 18X program. This program recruits motivated civilians directly from the street into Special Forces upon successful completion of a comprehensive, multi-year training program. New 18Xs are motivated, intelligent, eager to train, eager to deploy and are in excellent physical condition. Their level of maturity is above the norm, they are absolutely committed to mission success, and they’ve done exceptional work upon joining their detachments.

As to the feedback from experienced operators regarding the recruitment and training processes, remember that we train our own force. Combat-seasoned, non-commissioned officers from the operational groups make up the training cadres of the Special Warfare Training Group. They are intimately aware of what is needed on the teams and work diligently to ensure the required standards are met.

Q: Can you give us any insight into what the FY07 budget might mean to USASFC? How much input is there at your level into where money would best be allocated to make SF as mobile, lethal and effective as USSOCOM needs it to be?

A: The FY07 budget is extremely important for Special Forces’ long-term goals. Historically, Special Forces has been the most under-funded ARSOF command per capita soldier. We are working toward changing that by getting the right amount of funding in the POM. We do a good job of presenting and justifying our requirements for the programmers who submit the POM to SOCOM.

Additionally, specially allocated GWOT funding has helped the SF soldier by getting him the right equipment and getting the groups healthy in the areas of the right equipment and resources. The challenge now is to find the right baseline budget in the upcoming years to continue properly resourcing the SF soldier.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to add?

A: I welcome the opportunity to tell your readers and all Americans how very proud they should be of their Special Forces warriors. These men are absolutely among America’s very best. From the earliest days of this fight, Special Forces have undertaken some of the most dangerous and critical missions against the enemies of our nation and freedom-loving people everywhere. Whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines, Colombia or wherever the call sounds, these small groups of incredibly competent and self-reliant men from both the active and National Guard components of Special Forces, operating alone or with their indigenous counterparts, are aggressively executing their unconventional warfare tasks on behalf of the American people. Their record is one of enduring heroism, valor, honor and success.

This dedication and commitment does not come without cost, obviously. Our families consistently show incredible resolve and resilience in the face of the stresses imposed by multiple deployments of husbands and fathers to combat zones. Of course, this is massively compounded in the face of casualties. As with all of our brothers-in-arms since 9/11, Special Forces soldiers have fallen on the field of battle, or suffered grievous, life-affecting wounds. The phenomenal courage and heart exhibited by our surviving wives and families, parents and siblings, by wounded men waging a new fight towards recovery is both humbling and inspiring beyond the ability of words to convey. I would certainly encourage your readers and all whom they in turn touch to reach out to these heroes in any way possible.

Since 1952, Special Forces soldiers and units have exemplified our motto, De Oppresso Liber—To Liberate the Oppressed. Never has this been more true than today. America’s premier unconventional warriors are out there now, as you read these words, fighting and working to make this a better world. Keep them in your prayers.

De Oppresso Liber

Strength and Honor


doublearr said...

Now a Maj Gen, Mr Mulholland is a true Amercian Hero. One that will stand out in this and past years fighting for the right too be free.

doublearr said...

1 Comment -Show Original Post

doublearr said...
Now a Maj Gen, Mr Mulholland is a true Amercian Hero. One that will stand out in this and past years fighting for the right too be free